News, Culture and Opportunities

After 57 years as an educator, the first and only principal of Anchorage’s Tyson Elementary is retiring

John Kito spent nearly three decades as William Tyson Elementary’s first and only principal.

Now Kito, originally from Petersburg and of Tlingit and Japanese descent, is set to retire next month after 57 years as an educator, most of it within the Anchorage School District.

“I feel like I was destined to be here,” he said of his time at Tyson Elementary in an interview Friday morning. “And as I leave the Anchorage school system, I leave part of my philosophy and my heart here because I really believe diversity is a key to this community and school.”

Kito has been principal of Tyson Elementary, located in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood, since it opened in 1996. Prior to that, he worked at schools in the Lower 48 before returning to Alaska, where he worked at East Anchorage High School (now Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School) as well as Muldoon, Mountain View and Klatt elementary schools.

Kito’s time at Tyson Elementary, and outreach to the diverse communities it serves, was celebrated Friday evening with a night of cultural celebrations in his honor.

Eagle feathers were presented to Kito during a short ceremony led by Lucy A. Brown and Agnes Ivanoff-Baptist, and Bartlett High School dance groups performed after a buffet-style feast where foods representing Albania, Samoa, Laos, Mexico and more filled plates and bowls.

Holding a plaque dedicated in his honor — and a Baby Yoda stuffed plushie given to him by a young child — Kito waited as community members lined up to give him a hug and say their goodbyes.

Cheryl Sherman, who went to elementary school at Mountain View when Kito was principal, cried as she talked about the impact Kito has had on her life and career path in education.

In 2017, Sherman began working as the youth development tutor at Tyson Elementary and has since become the cultural enrichment specialist for the Anchorage School District.

“I don’t think without his support that I would have … felt ready to move to my current position,” she said.

Kito has seen two generations of students and educators in Sherman’s family, and their bond is close.

Tyson Elementary “will always be home,” she said through tears. “That’s the kind of environment he created.”

Kito is proud of his school and role diversity plays within its walls. Each hall is dedicated to a different culture while pieces of Alaska Native art are incorporated into the school’s design. Outside, a sculpture of three dancers welcomes students and visitors.

“We wanted a school that would support our diversity, not see it as a problem to overcome,” he said.

As he walked down the halls Friday morning in a beaded Athabaskan chief’s necklace — given to him as a retirement gift from Sherman and her mother, Kerri Wood, and sister Mary Belcher — students spotted Kito and were eager to say hello.

Interactions like that kept him coming back after all these years, he said. “It’s primarily the feeling that when you come to the school, there’s always going to be a little person coming up to you and wanting to give you a side hug, or say, ‘Mr. Kito, I love you’, or you can see them enjoying coming to school.”

Kito’s official last day is June 3. But in true form, he plans to stay a few extra weeks to help give a last send-off to his final crop of students and teachers as they start their summer vacations.

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